What Conservatism Really Means - Roger Scruton in Conversation with Hamza Yusuf

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Event Name: What Conservatism Really Means - Roger Scruton in Conversation with Hamza Yusuf
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 3/29/2019 8:41:10 PM
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black;mso-fareast-language:EN-CA'>it's extremely corrupting to see things

in this Foucauldian way you know you

instead of asking the question is what

her hands are saying true I ask the

question you know what power is

advancing behind that you know you then

disappear from the picture right and

also what you've said disappears from

the picture yeah I'm not no longer

engaging with you I - thou at all right

because without the concept of truth

there is no real engagement between

people all I am seeing is the power

that's speaking through you and that of

course you can look at the whole of

culture in that way which is essentially

what the postmodern curriculum is taking

one writer one philosopher one musician

after another and just talking about you

know Susan McCleary on Beethoven that

this is fantasies of rape speaking

through this music you know it's

extremely boring after works is totally

panicking it lands I mean things I say

about critical theorists you know that

if it was a lens that it might be useful

sometimes to just peer through that lens

but but it's a corneal transplant you

know and a big metaphor yeah it becomes

the only way yeah and I've seen one of

the things that I've seen with students

in my own teaching experience is you

know I've had critical theorists in my

classes and whenever they raise their

hand I

could almost verbatim tell them what

they're going to say the response that

they're going to give to whatever was

said yes and and well then we need to

understand why it is so seductive that's

my point

it troubles me how seductive it's been

and it also I grapple in my own self

with the amount of genuine injustice in

the world you know that takes place on a

daily basis and I mean for instance you

know their attacks on capitalism to me

the corporate world today is so powerful

and to use a favorite term in that in

that world is hegemonic you know this

idea where monoculture becomes becomes

so imperious and we've seen so many I

mean I'll give you an example when I was

young one of the treats in my supposed

to go to a bookstore bookstores have

pretty much been wiped out in the United

States because of these corporations so

small bookstores are not able to survive

so now you have you you had borders but

then borders goes bankrupt mmm and and

then now we've got we're left with

Barnes and Noble and and and so if you

go in who's picking those books who's

actually choosing what books like if you

go for instance to to the teen section

it's almost all about vampires and

really weird occult and stuff it's not

like you know the Hardy Boys or Nancy

Drew mysteries it's it's very corrosive

ideas we slightly changed the topic now

we're not really talking about this

postmodern obsession with power right we

are we're talking about well changing

the structure of life right and but for

me a lot of I mean I'll give you an


Herbert Marku say who I'm not a fan of

button by any stretch but when when I

read some of his works I was struck by

real insights about things that were

very troubling about American culture

one dimensional man

this idea of a consumer and and life as

consumption and and and losing me I mean

his solutions is a whole other problem

but and this is something I think that's

very seductive is that the the critical

aspect of of Marxism and neo Marxism has

always been it's always had a resonance

in a lot of people there's something

very very powerful about it when you

when you get to solutions and how we

deal with these things we're in another

realm but if if I think if conservatives

don't really address the the real

serious critiques that are there you

know about the status quo yeah I think

you're right they have they have perhaps

neglected those critiques but you know

as I saying earlier the purely negative

approach to the status quo is simply

going to perpetuate this negativity and

has done if you're not the typical

conservative in my reading of events is

someone who looks around himself and he

finds things that he loves you know

anything's when those things are

threatened they're vulnerable I've got

to protect right and it's not often that

you find on the left somebody who looks

around and finds things that he loves

it's um it's always something that's

gone wrong something that is even

hateful and you've got to mobilize

against it if you've lost any sense that

actually the world is lovable and that

there are things there for to be rescued

in it you have actually lost the sense

of why there is such a thing as a

community in the first place and that I

think is one of the things that I felt

very strongly throughout my life that

that there really are wonderful things

that we've inherited all Americans

however whatever position in society

they are are still heirs to something

rather remarkable you know a rule of law

which has goes on perpetuating itself

from generation to generation if they if

only people knew how rare that was they

would see that they've got a fight to

preserve it you know

and the same with so many other

institutions that we yeah no I couldn't

agree with you more I think one of the

most one of the most interesting things

and Gwen we were talking about Gwyn

earlier the grammarian one of the things

that Gwyn points out and it really

struck me in his little book on grammar

that made quite a splash I think in the

UK one of the things that he points out

is that language our English language

has not changed a great deal I mean the

conservation of the language this site

could be because there's a lot of people

that the the descriptivists will just

say that language is whatever people use

but there is a reason to hold on and to

preserve language because if we allow

language to dissipate into private

languages we lose the ability to

communicate as a culture or a

civilization that is all true but also

equally true is a fact that languages we

inherited is not the product of a single

person or it's the evolved gift of

generations and and it contained in

every word there is a kind of history of

the human condition

we're actually inheriting wisdom with it

with language these words make

distinctions that we couldn't have ever

made ourselves right without their aid

and so but we are living entering a

world where grammar is not given the

importance of it that it deserves one of

the things and and talk for me I mean

conserving language is extremely

important and and it was an obsession of

Muslims the idea the Quran in essence

almost froze the Arabic language in a in

a in a period so the the ideal of Arabic

will always be the Quran and and in some

ways the the King James Bible did that

to English to a certain degree yes it

did or interestingly of course the King

James Bible isn't unashamedly a

translation you know and the Quran as

and is what I mean most Muslims don't

accept that it can be exactly translated

because it has a it has a perfection of

its own I course it was recited when you

know more about this three is recited

long before it is written down right and

and then it had achieved a kind of

statuesque quality that that our Bible

has never has never managed but you know

grammar the grammar of the King James

Bible is often quite unorthodox and and

it it's a very strange book and we now

look is the book that made our

seventeenth and eighteenth century

literature arguably it's it's the book

also that made some of the greatest

orators and

in our civilization yes I mean Lincoln

Lincoln's Lincoln's reliance and

dependence on on the King James Bible

was immense but hardly any Church now

uses it my Church the Anglican Church

does use it but only in certain little

places and in villages or in hi Sara

monile occasions I mean most of it for

the most part is the new English Bible

that has replaced it there you went to

grammar schools and and and and they've

been largely the attack on grammar

schools has been amazing because it's

been seen as an elitist enterprise and

one of the things that's that struck me

I read a book by David Mulroy called the

Warwick against grammar it was quite an

eye-opening book for me because one of

the things that in teaching our students

Arabic it's very difficult because many

of them have very little English grammar

yeah and and traditionally grammar

grammatical languages I mean all all

languages are grammatical but by that I

mean a language that is almost

impossible to understand without

knowledge of grammar like Arabic because

it's inflected and because it the verbs

are conjugated and so if you don't have

some understanding of that it becomes

very difficult but david moore roy makes

this argument that in the 1960s early

60s in the u.s. there was actually a

movement to stop teaching grammar and

they saw it as very abusive to children

and but but what's interesting he has

he has something that I've replicated in

several classes I on average I'll take

50 students I give him the opening

sentence to the Declaration of

Independence when in the course of human

events it becomes necessary to the end

of that sentence it's it's it's a

sentence that has several subordinate

clauses and I all I ask the students is

identify the main point of this sentence

now these are college students on

average out of 50 students I'll get two

or three that actually can identify the

main clause and and so there's a type of

higher illiteracy that that the fact

that grammar has been removed and I

think a restoration of language is the

only thing for me the the salvation of

the civilization has to be predicated on

the resurrection of the corruption of

this language well I think you've

actually touched on what the real

essence of conservatism is there you

know that that there are things that the

conservation of which is actually

fundamental to understanding the world

as it is and if you lose those things

like the rules of grammar the habits of

good speech or good manners the sense of

what a legal solution

as opposed to a mere bullying solution

to a conflict might be all those things

we we used to be taught to us as part of

becoming an adult if you lose those

things you're at sea in the world and I

think that's one of the things that that

most worries me about modern education

you refer to the this movement in our

schools to abolish grammar as elitist

it's absolutely true that a grammar is

elitist because it makes a distinction

between the people who know it and the

people who don't and that's the kind of

distinction that we all need if we're to

survive not only as a civilization but

as individuals too so this is where are

the real arguments for conservatism in

my view should be based not in their

economic sphere at all but in these

fundamental cultural inheritances and

yeah I couldn't agree with you more

and I think it's very one of the things

that really troubles me we had recently

a professor I think down in Southern

California at a major university who was

considered racist because he was

demanding that the students use proper

grammar and so the minority students

objected to that because they felt that

it was discriminatory and and and one of

the things about in our culture and I

and I think the the poor white people in

this culture are also disenfranchised

from a type of normative or conventional

language and I and I think it's very

disempowering to do that

of course when I was at school grammar

school I was I came from a poor

background right you know and we were

our teachers as their first instinct

when they found that you were in some

way handicapped by your the the language

that you'd learn from your parents was

to take you in hand give you the

advantage which were family had not so

that you could catch up with the others

right and I think that's that idea of

teaching that you that you're actually

lifting people up so as to be able to

receive their inheritance that idea has

gone to a great extent it's much more

now that the teacher comes down to the

level of the students exactly and this

is and this big male Ian's a good

example of that because because Shaw in

Shaw's Pygmalion and and it obviously

there's a lot of irony and sarcasm in

that but the idea of the flower girl who

speaks non-standard English wanting to

speak like a lady to speak proper as a

way of upward mobility yes and and and

one of the things that Toynbee points

out is that a civilization on its way


inverts that so there's a vulgar ization

of the patrician class where they begin

to speak in vanities in profanity and

and become unfortunately that is so yeah

but yeah I think we mustn't be too

pessimistic about everything okay I mean

you all roll that

you are someone who's found in Islam

something which gives him the foundation

that he needs in order to confront this

gradual degeneration of things all

around and I respect that you want if

one can find that foundation one can

then start building again - to recapture

those things which are jeopardized by

the laxness of our of modern society and

I think you've got to be optimistic

about that you've got to think that you

can recapture these things otherwise you

know what what are you doing as a

teacher you know that's yeah it depends

on what day it is okay they yeah the

Arabs have a famous story about a king

who had a positive day and a negative

day William what that so I mean some

days I look out there and it's so

overwhelming you know that what's

happened I think you I mean we're old

enough you're a little ahead of me but

we're both old enough to know how

different the world that we grew up in

is today and it's quite devastating in a

lot of ways my mother who was 96 when

she passed I said to her she she when

she was born there was an ottoman Calif

in 1921 right and and and I asked her

and she was extremely liberal and and I

was raised with with a lot of liberal

sensibilities my father was very

conservative but so I got both sides and

it was very interesting to see those

those two views and and how powerful

each one is in its own way but when I

asked her once just what what do you

think is the worst thing about what's

happening that she said manners yes just

manners and and one of the there's a

French I can't remember his name but

there was a French ethicist who wrote a

book on virtues about 15 years ago is

that yeah yeah compt I think it was

called the book of virtues that's right

and the first virtue he had in there was

courtesy yes and and one of the

foundational virtues of the Islamic

civilization is EDA and

and which means comportment it means


it means courtesy but it also means

literature exactly so the idea is is is

a the edebe is somebody who has absorbed

the humanities yes well that the habits

of proper dialogue and I mean that

that's all that is very interesting of

course you living here in Berkeley

you know only you only have to look out

of the window to see how far things can

be Klein you know I look out of my

window onto the English countryside

right and mostly horses whose whose

manners remained constant from

generation to generation but go ahead

yeah but you know Berkeley is famous for

being the pioneer in degeneracy but

whatever form and maybe one should you

know the very fact that you can plant

your institution here and still not only

recruit people but also create this kind

of atmosphere of of peace and and

goodwill in the middle of all this and

suggest that you know that that Berkeley

style degeneracy is perhaps not more

than skin-deep and yeah well can I say

something in defense of Berkeley yeah

yeah of being here

I found the the the people here are

they're very welcoming people in and and

there's there and this is where I really

try to avoid and maybe it's my mother

and my father's influence on me have

just seen both sides I really try to

avoid Manichean type of worldviews and

and I think you know that this Dionysian

impulse that that's clearly there in us

as a species and the Apollonian this

idea of order as opposed to this kind of

chaotic ex ecstatic type of being and I

think one of the things in our tradition

in the Islamic tradition was very

interesting to me is they have this

concept of what they call the mush dupes

Alec who's the the the the goal you know

in the spiritual tradition of Islam is

be inwardly in a state of ecstasy but

outwardly in a state of sobriety and so

there's this this very interesting

Dionysian Apollonian balance that's it

that's actually taking place and I think

one of the things that happens in a

culture that that loses the ability to

experience internal ecstasy like to you

know where this mean comes from the soul

I mean I'll give you an example there